The recent unveiling of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s superhighway plan for the future of Ottawa’s Jewish community is a welcome opportunity for us to grow in our quest for greater involvement in Jewish communal issues and projects. It is highly commendable that Federation is setting its sights on the future, and that is the M.O. of a successful venture which requires our support.
At the same time, there has to be a service road that parallels this highway – specifically in the area of Jewish outreach in order to enhance Jewish organizational affiliation and, equally if not more importantly, increased Jewish observance of the laws of the Torah and Talmud. Our future as a Jewish community is based on commitment founded on the principles of Jewish education that cuts across all ages from the very young to the adult community.
We are blessed with educational institutions of all stripes in our community, and we support their continued survival as the foundations of Jewish continuity in its truest sense – not simply by numbers but by demonstrated commitment to the tenets of our faith. We lose too many of our sisters and brothers to the scourge of assimilation due in no small part to the fact that so few in our community are taking advantage of Jewish educational opportunities that are available in Ottawa, or that could be available with the reestablishment of a community Jewish high school that only will become a reality if parents really want it passionately.
To put this whole theme of discussion through a Torah perspective, Rashi at the end of Parashat Behar speaks of the community’s obligation to redeem a Jewish slave sold to a non-Jewish master. The community cannot ignore this hapless Jew who finds himself enslaved to someone whose values do not reflect his own. The slave, by definition, emulates his master in terms of the latter’s failure to observe Judaism thus resulting in the loss, albeit spiritually, of a member of the community.
In a sense, general society is the master, and the Jew who has no Jewish educational background or interest in anything Jewish is the slave. His freedom from religion is simply another manifestation of an adherence to an alternative pathway of life that in many ways reflects moral relativism rather than moral constancy. While there are many blessings to an open society in which we live, there are many drawbacks as well which pose challenges to Jewish continuity and preservation.
As we begin our travels on the Federation superhighway in terms of community building, we have to think back to another superhighway that was taken thousands of years ago, when the Jewish people travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land. The tribe of Dan was given the assignment to gather that which was left behind by other tribes as the Israelites travelled through the desert. There will be many stragglers falling off of the road of the superhighway, and we have a responsibility to pick them up. It is our role as a community to support and to reach out to those who fall off the derech (pathway) that we are traveling in the years to come in the Ottawa Jewish community.
We have to drive carefully, and ensure that no Jew is left behind.